Plan now to hear the tills jingle all the way

Brands need to have their strategies for the Christmas period in place now if they want to ensure they have solid sales and bring festive cheer to their balance sheets. 

Despite it being late summer, marketers are turning their attention to the Christmas period, as the countdown to the festive season begins.

Smart brands are working out their strategies, honing their approach to ensure they stand out from the crowd and meet consumer needs during the important final quarter.

Early signs point to a broader marketing approach by brands in 2013, in an effort to extend the life of the lucrative season and to build brand equity.

Asda’s chief marketing officer Stephen Smith, for example, announced that the retailer’s festive activity this year will be treated more as a fourth quarter campaign.

This strategy will help differentiate the brand from more Christmas-focused campaigns (see boxout below for more tips on preparing for the Christmas period).

Speaking at Asda’s Christmas showcase in July, he said: “We are looking at the whole fourth quarter and highlighting different moments where customer buying habits change [in that period], so that includes halfterm and bonfire night. We will make sure it is a festive campaign, but that it’s about quarter four rather than just Christmas-orientated adverts.”

The campaign will also champion particular product ranges to emphasise the quality of Asda products.

This approach is a departure from the retailer’s 2012 campaign where TV ads featured a mum preparing for all aspects of Christmas while her family looked on. The ad sparked 620 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority, claiming that it reinforced outdated stereotypes and was sexist.

Meanwhile, Cadbury has announced its first multi-brand Christmas marketing campaign, a consolidated approach that will bring together its products for the season under one “Christmas Wrapping” theme, supported by a multi-million pound advertising campaign (see Q+A below) 


We came up with something that would span our whole portfolio. In the past, we have had a big Christmas range, but it didn’t sing as one song. We’ve been playing different notes, but together they didn’t play a lovely Christmas tune,” says Rick Lawrence, marketing manager at Cadbury.

New pack designs will reflect a modern, fun personality that’s more in keeping with the brand’s Joyville positioning than the traditional designs used previously, says the company.

Lawrence hopes that this overarching positioning will build brand equity and grow the business, which is already closely linked with the festive period in consumer minds.

We’ve put in place a robust platform that we feel will allow us to lift the profile of all our brands over the festive period,” he says.

A broader platform will also allow the brand to begin its marketing and promotional activity earlier in the season.

This may be prudent as the latest research by Asda’s Mumdex – a panel of over 5,500 Asda mums of various ages and backgrounds – revealed in August that almost a third of them have started saving for Christmas this year.

Twenty per cent of shoppers are already making use of the Asda Christmas Savings Card, which is designed to help customers save as they shop. The card enables customers to save up to £144 on each card, for which Asda will pay a tiered bonus if the money remains on the card until a specified day in November. The supermarket will pay a £6 bonus for savings of £144, a £3 bonus for savings of £97 and a £1 bonus for savings of £49.

Many shoppers joined the scheme in February, much earlier than they did in 2012.

Christmas is a really special time of year for our customers, but the strain of the festive season can be a lot to carry,” explains Smith at Asda. “Last year, mums told us they were cutting back, but this year it’s all about planning and budgeting. 

Likewise, home improvement retailer B&Q will offer help and advice to consumers this Christmas, such as choosing the right Christmas tree, the best number of lights to use on trees of different sizes and online videos showing how to decorate a home, together with products including decorations, outdoor lighting and trees.

The expansion of the Christmas season extends to Christmas day. EBay Advertising found that on 25 December last year, 6.9 million unique users made 525,589 purchases, highlighting the need for campaigns to continue post-Christmas.

Phuong Nguyen, head of eBay advertising UK, says: From what we have observed, people are starting their Christmas browsing earlier, which represents a significant opportunity for brands which now have more time to influence consumer purchase decisions in the run-up to Christmas.

“Some are missing out by starting their campaigns too late or not running them right up to Christmas.”

Pernod Ricard’s festive focus will be on its premium offering, creating gift packs for spirits such as The Glenivet to appeal to brand loyalists

Christmas is the most important time of year for alcohol sales. Premium drinks produver Pernod Ricard has identified three phases of shopper behaviour in the lead up to Christmas, as part of research published in August on consumers who buy wine and spirits at Christmas 

The research was conducted at either side of the Christmas period in 2012 and questioned 2,000 consumers about their intended and actual purchasing habits over the festive period.

It suggests that in October, people focus on multi-buy deals to stock-up for the festive period. In November, the emphasis is on premium and sparkling products, as they get into the party time mind-set. And in December the big push is on premium spirits, fine wines and champagnes as shoppers start buying for Christmas Day.

It is therefore imperative that retailers plan around consumers’ needs, in order to solve shopper problems and differentiate themselves.

This Christmas, Pernod Ricard’s focus will be on premium branded wines and spirits and gift pack products for brands including Chivas Regal and The Glenlivet, and for the first time, Malibu.

Have we any evidence that people give Malibu as a gift? No, but there are real Malibu loyalists out there. We feel that they will buy Malibu at Christmas as well,” says Patrick Venning, UK marketing director at Pernod Ricard.

Pernod Ricard’s research also finds that online has been outpacing market growth with more consumers taking advantage of the channel. Likewise, Asda anticipates this Christmas being the biggest so far for online shopping. “We’re expecting a record number of mums to do their Christmas shop online this year,” says Smith at Asda.

Marketers need to get their skates on and write their strategy list if they are ensure cut-through in the bustling festivities, fulfil consumers’ needs and enjoy bumper Christmas results. 

Five things marketers should do now to prepare for the Christmas period

1. Establish the relationship early. During the festive holidays, consumers are inundated with marketing promotions. Don’t wait until November to engage with them and create brand advocates. Start building and refining your CRM database now. Find out when emails are more likely to be opened by customers, or which mobile coupons are most redeemed and adapt your message strategy accordingly.

2. Ask yourself how you can be different. 
Even after cultivating an early relationship with your customers, the blitz of holiday campaigns in November and December can make it a challenge to remain front of mind. Think about the unique marketing campaigns your brand can offer. How can you differentiate? Moving away from a traditional Christmas or Hanukkah campaign and playing off a different timely element can help you stand out.

3. Solve shoppers’ problems.
 While holiday shopping can be fun, it can also be stressful for consumers. Help overcome challenges by positioning your marketing around alleviating shopping stress. Integrate a shopping guide or interactive map on your microsite or mobile app. Don’t think about pushing product, it’s about solving shopper needs.

4. Make it fresh.
Taking a phased marketing approach with your campaign is especially important leading up to the holidays, in order to keep your messages fresh. Yes, the period right up to the holidays is a sprint, but the months leading up to that are a marathon. If you push the same message during that marathon, you lose relevancy. Use distinct stages of messaging and various promotions or giveaways.

5. Keep it simple.
There are just as many marketing strategies to avoid as there are tips to leverage. Christmas is not the time to market a complicated promotion. Everyone is moving so quickly during this time of year, and consumers participate in promotions that are easy and fast.

Source: Matt Kates, vice president, strategic services, ePrize, and guest blogger for Econsultancy


Rick Lawrence
Marketing manager


Marketing Week (MW): What’s the biggest change to your Christmas marketing strategy for 2013?

Rick Lawrence (RL): We’ve never advertised or supported Christmas before. That’s a key difference. We’ve never brought in our standard brands – non-seasonal brands like Cadbury Dairy Milk, Freddo and Buttons have had a limited or no role to play in the Christmas portfolio.

Everything we did over Christmas was disparate and we wanted to have a platform that tied it together. We wanted shoppers to walk around a store this Christmas and see it all tie together as one big Cadbury Christmas. By doing this, we stand to have a bigger impact over the period.

MW: What approach will you take with your new ad campaign?

RL: The thing that everyone struggled with last year was a balance between a saccharine Christmas, which can fail to work, and the trend for a fairly ’gritty’ Christmas – Christmas for mum isn’t that great, juggling all the cooking and dealing with all the family problems.

Hopefully, we’ll manage to deliver a magical, uplifting ad, without being saccharine. The ad is shot in a real street, using real people – it’s not actors on a set. We’re conscious of the risk of overdoing the magic and it not landing well.

MW: How will you ensure you meet consumer needs this Christmas?

RL: There are different shopper needs during the Christmas season. Some are specific seasonal needs and some are normal needs that occur all year round.

We will be putting our Cadbury Dairy Milk core tablet range into a Christmas design, but that’s not to be sold for specific Christmas occasions. It’s just a nice sprinkle of magic Christmas fairy dust onto the normal Cadbury Dairy Milk.

Then there are Christmas shopper needs: people need to buy my kids some stocking fillers or want to have some chocolate for the kitchen table for when people come around in December. We’ve brought some brands from our standard all year round portfolio like Freddo and Buttons into the season because they better deliver against that need.

We’re also launching a lot of new products, most importantly the Cadbury Dairy Milk Mousse Snowman, which will be in the market from September.

The effectiveness of email

What sector a brand is in will affect the marketing channels it uses at Christmas and how effective they will be. Email marketing read rates, for example, varied greatly last year, depending on sector. The chart illustrates this. 


Sector Sent Read %

Apparel and shoes









Consumer electronics



Daily deals



Department stores



Flowers and chocolates



General merchandise






Kitchen and home













Source: Return Path, which analysed 4 million email marketing messages between 1 November and 31 December 2012. Statistics are for the UK. 


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